• August 30, 2015

Community-College Students Say They Struggle to Get Into Needed Classes

From students' perspective, community colleges are no longer able to offer the access to an education that they have long promised, says a report released on Wednesday.

One in five community-college students had a difficult time getting into at least one course that they needed in fall 2010, and almost a third could not get into a class that they wanted, according to the national survey, commissioned by the Pearson Foundation. Hispanic students were particularly affected, with 55 percent saying they could not enroll in a class they wanted because it was already full.

About 28 percent of students who took placement tests said they could not enroll in all of the recommended classes.

The situation may only grow worse, as two-year colleges have warned, amid repeated budget cuts and increased demand from a financially needy population. State community-college directors have predicted that their states' contributions will continue to fall even as enrollment rises. A budget proposal in Texas, for example, threatens to deny any funds to four community colleges. In other states, including Iowa and South Carolina, community colleges are now getting more money from tuition than from state contributions.

The national "Community College Student Survey" is new, so it's unclear whether students are having a harder time getting classes than in the past. But it's clear that many are feeling squeezed out.

About 1,430 U.S. residents between the ages of 18 and 59 were interviewed for the "Community College Student Survey" from September 27 to November 14. Respondents had to have pursued at least one community-college course for credit between August 1 and the survey's completion.

In addition to crowded classes, the report said many struggling students can't get help or don't seek it out. About 5 percent of students had dropped out during the first few weeks of the semester, and 10 percent had seriously considered doing so. Students working full time or in remedial courses were most likely to have dropped out or seriously thought about it.

Of the students who considered dropping out, 20 percent said they could not get the help they needed. Almost three-quarters of those who did drop out had not discussed their intentions with instructors or advisers.

The survey, which also explored students' thoughts about online education and interactions with professors, is available at the Pearson Foundation's Web site.


1. quidditas - February 09, 2011 at 08:17 am

Congratulations, CCs. Now you're NYU!

2. archman - February 09, 2011 at 09:09 am

"One in five community-college students had a difficult time getting into at least one course that they needed in fall 2010, and almost a third could not get into a class that they wanted"

From working at multiple (4-year publics) over many years, these statistics seem neither alarming nor unusual. Basically some of this report's statements can be reversed to state...
"80% of community college students had no difficulty getting ALL their classes in Fall 2010"
"66% of community college students got into classes they *wanted* in Fall 2010"

This report does acknowledge that it has no idea if these statistics are "new" or not, which is good because most of them do not really appear to be. Not being able to easily (or at all) get into a *few* college classes throughout one's academic career seems pretty commonplace.

All that said, college enrollment is ballooning nationwide, and very few schools have adequate coping mechanisms. The percentage of students who will not be able to get "first pick" or "any pick" can only climb higher.

3. dtabass - February 09, 2011 at 09:28 am

I don't know about elsewhere, but this is a huge problem in at several community colleges in SoCal (ex: Orange Coast, Saddleback). Students are frequently unable to register for the courses needed for general studies, transfers, and non-vocational majors. Courses on things like jet engine repair were the *only* non-closed classes on a list of many hundreds of classes when I was helping my son look at what might be left open after he missed the registration deadline while being away doing some Marine Reserve training; nothing that would contribute to forward progress towards graduation or transfer to a 4-year school were open. Wait lists were 15+ students deep for classes of size 30 and instructors were generally grumpy about budgets and many were unsympathetic - sort of a "you and everyone else" situation about courses needed. This also happened to my wife when she was trying to get a math class she wanted to start to work towards adding math as an additional subject area on her CA teaching credential. Based on my "random sample of two" students, it's way worse than these statistics suggest for folks who are trying to be 4-year college bound in a reasonable timeframe or who have specific needs involving core classes, at least in (Southern) California. I teach at UC Irvine and I don't think we have quite the same severe class availability squeeze there, though obviously we are all struggling with budget issues at the moment.

4. jeff_winger - February 09, 2011 at 09:30 am

Less Tenured faculty less flexibility in course offerings.
NTTs are unable to deliver institutionally-syncratic courses or if they are those admins who make up the schedules don't know who can do what.

5. bowl_haircut - February 09, 2011 at 10:54 am

And yet there are armies of un- and under-employed PhDs stocking shelves at Costco and toasting sandwiches. I'm sorry, someone's going to have to explain this one to me in terms I can understand.

6. etmiller - February 09, 2011 at 11:15 am

Well, I guess we all can understand money and politics. What we actually should be looking at is how many students don't even bother to enroll because the limited schedules (i.e., a required class being offered only in the morning or night) are impossible fit into a working person's life.

7. 11272784 - February 09, 2011 at 11:33 am

CC's are being financially strangled just when demand is increasing. In Colorado they're having real problems..and a few years ago we darn near had to shut down many of them because the right wingers didn't want to fund them. Fortunately cooler heads found a compromise, although it's running out and another actual moment of cognition will be needed.

8. wordlover65 - February 09, 2011 at 01:23 pm

There are many reasons students can't get the classes they need. Unfortunately, one reason for this is entirely in the hands of the student, and that is, procrastination! Students who register a few days before classes begin, run the risk of not getting the classes they need.

9. ccenglishprof - February 09, 2011 at 04:53 pm

archman, bowl_haircut and wordlover65:

The problems this article touches on are specific to cc's and can't just be dismissed:

1) 65-70% of community college students place into pre-transfer English or math. If a student places at the bottom of a developmental sequence s/he may have three courses to take even before getting to a transferable credit course in English or math. If 28% according to this survey cannot get into an English and/or math class that is required to progress through a sequence, that can have a huge impact on the ability of the student to start or maintain any academic growth/momentum. Even further, if the institution has heavy enforcement of pre-requisites that may severely limit any other classes the student can enroll in. (I am in a large California cc where that number of students not getting a required class is not 28% but is much closer to 50-55%...)
2) This is a funding and supply problem not a labor problem. There are plenty of schools eager to pay an adjunct with an M.A. or PhD. a cut-rate hourly wage to teach developmental and 101-level transfer course--but those schools have had to cut funds even to their cheapest labor, contingent faculty. Funding cuts are decimating class offerings while (as other posts here and elsewhere attest) the need/student demand for sections has increased. My college is looking at an 11% budget shortfall projected for 2011-12--and that's a *positive* scenario, assuming Gov. Jerry Brown gets what he wants from the Calif. legislature and voter approval of ballot propositions in June.

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